Mapping Startups & Services Filtering For Relevance In A Matrix

After looking at the different approaches to filtering for Relevance, I have been seeking a way to map them visually. There are many different startups competing in this space along with the giants, and a way to map them in a matrix would help us see the big picture of how the battle for relevance is evolving on the social web.

What are the fundamental ways in which these approaches and startups differ? These could form the axis around which we can then proceed to map them.

The Popular – Personalized Axis

Filtering either works by showing us the most popular stuff being shared online, or by understanding our individual preferences and surfacing personalized content. Thus, we have the following axis:

PopularPersonalized

The Serendipity – Search Axis

You either search for content or you see it serendipitously without seeking anything specific. Search is actively initiated by the user and is goal-driven, while serendipitous discovery is gifted with the user being passive at the receiving end. This gives us our second axis:

SerendipitySearch

The Filtering for Relevance Matrix (FORMAT)

We combine these two axes to form the backbone of our visualization. We then place different services within our matrix as per their core filtering approach. The result is the Filtering FOR Relevance Matrix (FORMAT) as seen below:

 

Format

Let us now look at each quadrant closely.

Popular – Search Quadrant

This is the simplest and oldest of all. Search powered by algorithms to surface most popular content online. This also includes other Twitter search services like Topsy. These services are powered by algorithms such as PageRank, PersonRank, Resonance, etc. to surface the most popular result relevant to a query.

This approach dominated the Web 1.0 era before the advent of the social web.

Popular – Serendipity Quadrant

Services in this category help you find the most popular content being shared online across different social networks. These were the next to evolve in the Web 2.0 era, beginning with social bookmarking services like Reddit, StumbleUpon, etc.

There is an element of personalization provided by many of these, in that you “follow” some users, but the motive behind such following is less to seek personalized content, more to seek trending, viral content.

Note how Digg is attempting to move from this quadrant to the personalized quadrant, and facing hurdles along the way.

Search – Personalized Quadrant

A breed of services has evolved around delivering personalized recommendations and content tailored for your needs. Hunch learns about you and acts as a “taste engine”, while Blekko allows you to personalize your searches with slashtags. Google is making forays in this space with its Social Search service, which tries to personalize search results based on your social graph.

Personalized Serendipity Quadrant

This is the hottest space where most of the competition is today.

Twitter Lists are personalized (created by you) and deliver fresh, serendipitous content relevant to your interests. Facebook Likes give you serendipitous discovery from your personal friends. Flipboard provides a social magazine based on your personal social circle on Facebook and Twitter. My6sense delivers new content using ‘Digital Intuition’. Vertical networks like Last.fm deliver music recommendations based on your individual taste. Personalized Twitter newspapers give you fresh content filtered by your social graph on Twitter.

Note how Datasift lies at the center of the matrix. This is because Datasift is a platform providing different filtering services and approaches. Developers may use the platform to develop different services and apps that can lie in any of these quadrants.

How does FORMAT help?

So what is the point of this exercise? Using FORMAT:

  • We see the big picture of how services providing relevance and filtering are evolving.
  • We see how personalized serendipity is the holy grail of the social web right now.
  • We see how different services relate to each other and who is competing with whom and how.
  • We see how identifying the target quadrant is important for any new startup in this space.
  • We see how users provide friction when a service tries to change quadrants (Digg).

If you are involved in a startup aiming to provide filtered, relevant content to users, which quadrant would you target? See how FORMAT helps?

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  • http://www.atulkarmarkar.com/ Atul Karmarkar

    Another excellent post, Mahendra. Love the way you’ve presented this.

  • Olivier Amprimo

    where is Aardvark?

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    Thanks, Atul!

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    Good question. Q&A Services like Aardvark, Quora, etc. are essentially in the Personalized Search quadrant. Asking a question is an even more active initiation for content discovery – an extension of search.

    I later decided to keep Q&A Services off the map as it would’ve been too cluttered.

  • Sachindoshi

    what an analysis of the hotted space in present times. It helped make me put all social mess in perspective.

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    Thank you, Sachin! Appreciate the feedback.

  • http://www.cascaad.com Erik Lumer

    On the vertical axis, it might be better to oppose search vs subscribe, or pull vs push as different modalities to access content.

    The element of serendipity, i.e. unexpected discovery, is not necessarily present in push services. For instance, services that prioritize by relevance your twitter timeline are helping filter the noise, but you are still getting only what you subscribed to.

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra Palsule

    Hi Erik,

    Thanks for the feedback. I’m not sure why your comment was not picked up by Disqus – it’s giving an error when I try to resync – so I’m responding within WordPress comments.

    While the element of serendipity is not necessarily present, it is usually. Taking your example, on Twitter, people I follow usually ReTweet others who I don’t follow. The concept of ‘subscribe’ limits what I see by definition, hence I did not think it suitable to use it. Unexpected discovery is critical and crucial to the social DNA, subscription is an inherent part of it. In a way, subscriptions enable serendipity when combined with a social network.

  • Anonymous

    This is an excellent post. I really loved reading this. The analysis is absolutely amazing.

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    Thank you, Srikar! Appreciate the feedback.

  • Sunny

    Thanks Mahendra.

    I have using tools like tim.es, our team yahoo pipes and found them very useful and this post as mentioned by Sachindoshi helps put things into perspective.

    Some Comments :

    1. Like : I find this to be both Serendipity and Popular. However, under the context of Facebok Like, I agree that it is Serendipity.

    2. How about Yahoo Pipes, for me I would put it under Personalized and Search.

    3. What about RSS ?

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    Sunny,

    Thanks for the feedback.

    1. Facebook Likes show you content that only your friends have liked, not that which everyone on the web has liked. That’s why it’s more personalized, and not just popular.

    2. Yahoo Pipes is a geeky tool, not used by mainstream users as an app or service. I haven’t considered such tools. Also, I’m not sure if Yahoo Pipes has any social element in it.

    3. RSS is an underlying protocol that can be used by apps. It isn’t inherently social. There are social apps built using RSS such as Google Reader and Toluu. Such apps may be mapped into this matrix. Note that Datasift is able to handle RSS as well.

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    For some reason, a comment by Erick Lumer (of Cascaad.com) wasn’t picked up by Disqus from WordPress, hence I’m entering his comment and my response here.

    Erik Lumer:

    On the vertical axis, it might be better to oppose search vs subscribe, or pull vs push as different modalities to access content.

    The element of serendipity, i.e. unexpected discovery, is not necessarily present in push services. For instance, services that prioritize by relevance your twitter timeline are helping filter the noise, but you are still getting only what you subscribed to.

    Me:

    Hi Erik,

    Thanks for the feedback. I’m not sure why your comment was not picked up by Disqus – it’s giving an error when I try to resync – so I’m responding within WordPress comments.

    While the element of serendipity is not necessarily present, it is usually. Taking your example, on Twitter, people I follow usually ReTweet others who I don’t follow. The concept of ’subscribe’ limits what I see by definition, hence I did not think it suitable to use it. Unexpected discovery is critical and crucial to the social DNA, subscription is an inherent part of it. In a way, subscriptions enable serendipity when combined with a social network.

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